by Nichole Hacha-Thomas
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Every day after getting home from school, your teen-ager disappears into her room and logs onto her computer, and your 8-year-old begs to play with his video games. You don’t seem to spend any time together as a family and you feel that you can’t get your kids to talk to you anymore.
No one would argue that technology has many benefits — most of us probably use some type of electronic device daily. Computers, televisions, video games, and cell phones are just a part of life for most Americans.
What some people may not know, however, is that too much screen time can have negative side effects for children. Children who spend too much time in front of the television, computer or a video game tend to perform worse in school. They spend less time reading and engaging in physical activities, and spend more time eating junk food. Younger children often imitate the aggressive behavior they see on television or video games.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two years old have no screen time. And, children over two years old, including teenagers, should limit screen time to between one and two hours per day.
Unfortunately, kids in the United States watch an average of four hours of TV each day, and that doesn’t include hours spent in front of the computer or video games. With concern about school performance, childhood obesity and aggressive behavior, many parents are looking for ways to change that pattern in their own homes.
Following are some suggestions for reducing the amount of time your children use technology:
- Set a good example. If you spend most of your free time on your cell phone, checking Facebook or watching television, it will be hard to convince your children that they need to reduce their own screen time.
- Make a special effort to eat meals as a family and ban all electronic devices, including television, during mealtime.
- Avoid having a computer, television or video game equipment in your child’s room. It’s much easier to monitor usage when electronics are in public spaces in your home and teenagers are less likely to retreat to their room.
- Establish household rules regarding the use of electronics. For example, TV, computers and video games may only be available after chores and homework are complete.
- Sit down with the TV schedule and determine ahead of time what programs your family will watch that week. Make sure that the TV is turned off at all other times.
- Come up with creative alternatives for screen time. Some families enjoy a weekly board game night, walks in the neighborhood, attending sports events, participating in community activities or other low-cost ideas.
- Younger children will enjoy having a variety of other activities available including puzzles, art supplies, books, gardening or pretend play materials.
- Help your children resist peer pressure and avoid giving in just because “everyone else is doing it.” For example, ask yourself if a pre-teen really needs a cell phone or Facebook account
- During times that your children are involved with technology, use available rating systems and other screening tools to make sure that the media is age appropriate
- Finally, consider participating in National TV/Screen Turnoff weeks April 18-24 and September 18-24. These weeks are set aside for families to turn off their TV and other media for 7 days. Participating families get involved in other activities that promote an active lifestyle and family togetherness.
Learning Link, launched in 2009, is an initiative of the DeKalb County Community Foundation that helps link people and organizations providing learning opportunities for children and adults and align their educational goals. This series, “What’s in your parenting toolbox?” is written by the Adult Lifelong Learning team which encourages adults to improve themselves, their families and their community through continuous learning.